News & Opinion

Put your money on Johnson, Spieth … and Stricker?

This has been a terrible year for golf. And by that, I mean that this has been a terrible year to wager on golf.

So says the man whom I call The Anonymous Gambler, who bets golf when the major championships roll around and is annoyed that very little has gone according to form.

“Nobody saw Sergio Garcia coming at the Masters,” the AG told me. “I was still certain he’d hand it to Justin Rose on the back nine. And Brooks Koepka? That’s why you don’t put money down when a new course holds a major. You have no reliable data.”

On the condition of anonymity, he agreed to share some opinions on this week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Gary Van Sickle: How is the Open at Birkdale shaping up?
The Anonymous Gambler: This looks like the year of the guy who’s not supposed to win. Garcia at the Masters, of all places? I still can’t believe it. And Koepka outdueling the likes of Brian Harman at the U.S. Open? What world is this? 

GVS: Are you saying that there is no real favorite?
TAG: Exactly. I’m ignoring the U.S. Open because it was too screwy; no offense to Erin Hills. People griped because it was too easy, yet most of the big names missed the cut. Still, it doesn’t look like our usual suspects – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth – are in prime form, although Spieth did luck out and win that nutty Travelers playoff four weeks ago.

GVS: What kind of player should do well at Birkdale?
TAG: My insider data say Birkdale favors a good iron player and a strong putter. Mark O’Meara, who beat Brian Watts in a playoff there in ’98, rarely hit an iron shot that wasn’t pin-high. Ian Baker-Finch could hit an iron in his day and, brother, could he putt. Padraig Harrington, just like O’Meara. So that’s the profile of the player I’m seeking.

GVS: Who, for instance?
TAG: Two guys I already dissed: Johnson and Spieth. At 12-1, they’re good buys. Spieth is hitting it better than you might think – fifth in greens in regulation – and I’ll always take him to hole a 15-footer for my life. D.J., well, he’s putting better than you might think. Because British Open greens usually are slower and favor remedial putters, they might be right in his wheelhouse. Day has been all but invisible, but his 25-1 payoff has gotten my attention.

GVS: If this is the year for winners who aren’t supposed to win, according to you, what does that mean?
TAG: Don’t laugh, but 50-year-old Steve Stricker has played an unusual amount of golf this year. He still wedges and putts it with anybody, he’s majorless and he’s 125-1.  He’s not supposed to win, which means he might… Tommy Fleetwood had a nice U.S. Open and he’s a Birkdale local, but he’s overpriced at 20-1… Matt Kuchar (60-1) is in good form and can finish third anytime, anywhere. Win a major? I’d take to him to show… A win by Rose (20-1) would be too perfect, given his ’98 run as an amateur, but I always like him in the big ones… Nobody thinks Kevin Kisner (100-1) is supposed to win a major except one of those Golf Channel talking heads – I forget which one – but he fits the profile for Birkdale.

GVS: How about Jon Rahm (15-1) of Spain, a rising star?
TAG: I don’t want any part of him. He won in Northern Ireland but got away without penalty despite mis-marking his ball. He made two mistakes. First, he did it. Second, he didn’t own up to it and insist on a penalty after the Euro rules officials wrongly let him off the hook (“Rahm worsens error by not seeking penalty,” July 10, http://bit.ly/2sHYLZs). Now he’s going to feel a curtain of suspicion every time he marks a ball or takes a drop. That’s bad karma.

GVS: Are you going to tell us whom you’re betting to win or not?
TAG: Yeah, everybody wants a freebie. Look, I’d always kick myself for not taking Spieth and D.J. at 12-1. So I’ll be on them. I also can’t ditch my man, Rose, at 20-1. 

GVS: Got a sleeper pick or two?
TAG: I’m giving up on my Masters pick, Danny Willett (250-1)... It’s not a sleeper pick but your defending champ, Henrik Stenson, is quietly paying 25-1. Very interesting… My actual sleeper pick is Memorial Tournament champ Jason Dufner (100-1), who often looks like he just rolled out of bed, but the man can wield irons and he’s a gamer.

GVS: Hey, you forgot to mention Phil Mickelson, at 30-1.
TAG: Actually, I didn’t. But thanks.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle